The science behind being a better father

Unfortunately, children don’t come with an instruction manual, as many of us have discovered. However, the skill of fathering has recently been subject to scientific research, which has revealed several unexpected findings about the way that kids grow up and the role that dads play.

From quitting the baby talk to getting hands-on with housework, here’s some scientifically sound advice on how to be the best dad – not just for Father’s Day, but for the rest of the year too.

Cut down on baby talk

While some research says cooing or adopting a ‘motherese’ voice can encourage babies’ talking skills, a study by Washington State University actually found the opposite to be true for fathers. While baby talk helped to connect mothers to their children more intimately, dads speaking to their children in a grown-up way promoted advanced language skills and helped bridge their journey to adulthood. By talking to your little ones in the same way you’d talk to an adult, you’ll give them a sense of being part of the wider world, earlier on.

Dad's talk fatherhood
dad's talk fatherhood

Be present in their early months

While the bonding experience is important for both parents after their baby is born, a study has found that babies will learn faster if fathers engage fully with them in their first three months and are physically more present. A team at Imperial College London found that men tend to have ‘a more stimulating, vigorous style’ of bonding with their babies, which encourages a child to explore and take risks, making them more likely to pick up new skills quickly later in life. In other words, getting stuck in with nappy changes, joining in with playtime and making sure you spend time simply holding your baby in its first few months can make your child a faster learner, later on.

Let kids be bored

While some parents fill up every second of their child’s day with lessons and play, research has shown that this can actually backfire. Work by Frontiers in Psychology (a psychology journal) showed that a busy schedule meant less time for children to develop their own creativity and initiative, which would help them to be more in control of their emotions and goals later in life. So, next time your kids are complaining they’re bored, encourage them to use their imaginations and make their own fun. 

dad's talk fatherhood
Dad's talk fatherhood

Pull on those rubber gloves

How you deal with housework, such as doing the dishes, the laundry or cooking dinner, is being watched on a subconscious level by your daughter. In turn, this shapes your daughter’s aspirations, allowing her to evaluate the roles of men and women as she grows into adulthood. And researchers at the University of British Columbia found that the strongest predictor of a daughter’s ambition was her dad’s approach to housework. The study found that even when fathers publicly supported gender equality, if they had a more traditional attitude towards the division of work at home, their daughters were more likely to see themselves in established female roles, such as a nurse, teacher or stay-at-home-mum. Time to start cooking dinner…

Let kids be rule breakers from time to time

Rules really are made to be broken, as a study published by Developmental Psychology has found. In fact, there’s even a monetary value to it, as children who misbehave are more likely to have successful careers and earn higher salaries because of their trouble-making personality traits. So, rather than pulling your hair out when your kids misbehave, sit back in the knowledge that they may well become CEOs later on in life.

But before you become too lax, remember there’s a fine balance between allowing your children to express their own opinions forcefully and letting them run riot – other behavioural experts recommend making sure kids understand the consequences of their actions as well. That naughty step might not be redundant yet.

Dad's talk fatherhood
Dad's talk fatherhood

Encourage children to get musical

Kids’ brain power can be boosted simply by picking up a musical instrument. Studies have shown that musicians have structurally superior brains to the average person, with increased motor skills and memory power, among other benefits. And while this means getting your kids started early on in music is a highly positive step, there’s evidence to suggest that picking up a guitar can have the same effect on you too.

A psychologist from the University of Zurich, who analysed the findings, found that: ‘Even in people over the age of 65, after four or five months of playing an instrument for an hour a week there were strong changes in the brain... The parts that control hearing, memory and the hands, among others, all become more active.’

So wondering what to do with the kids on a rainy Saturday afternoon? Time to take ‘dad rock’ to another level and start a family band, perhaps?

That’s some serious, science-based food for thought for Father’s Day. And, while you’re looking at how to improve your fathering skills, take time to ensure every eventuality is covered by checking out a good deal on your life insurance, right here.

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